Thursday, January 4, 2018
Saving Nary by Carol DeMent - NBTM and Giveaway
by Carol DeMent
A Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Saving Nary explores the losses, loyalties and secrets held within families broken by war and genocide. This compelling novel presents a palette of unique characters who struggle to make sense of the events that led them to America, even as they ponder the bewildering culture and lifestyle of their new homeland.
Refugee Khath Sophal lost everything when the Khmer Rouge swept into power in Cambodia: his livelihood gone, his family dead or missing; his sanity barely intact from the brutality he has been forced to witness.
Now resettled in the Pacific Northwest, Khath treads a narrow path between the horrors of his past and the uncertainties of the present. His nights are filled with twisted dreams of torture and death. By day he must guard constantly against the flashbacks triggered by the simple acts of daily living, made strange in a culture he does not understand.
Then Khath meets Nary, a mysterious and troubled Cambodian girl whose presence is both an aching reminder of the daughters he has lost, and living proof that his girls, too, could still be alive. Nary’s mother Phally, however, is another matter. A terrible suspicion grows in Khath’s mind that Phally is not who or what she claims to be. A split develops in the community between those who believe Phally and those who believe Khath. And those, it seems, who don’t really care who is right but just want to stir up trouble for their own personal gain.
Khath’s search for the truth leads him to the brink of the brutality he so despises in the Khmer Rouge. His struggle to wrest a confession from Phally ultimately forces him to face his own past and unravel the mystery of his missing daughters.
As the sun rose, Khath sat cross-legged in a lotus position in the small Buddhist temple nestled below Khao I Dang Mountain. The barbed wire perimeter fence separated the mountain from the refugee camp, but the mountain lent its power to the area nonetheless. Pra Chhay and two other monks chanted the Heart Sutra, a prayer of enlightenment, the rhythmic drone rising and falling in a soothing and familiar hum as the scent of incense hung heavily in the hot, humid air. About thirty refugees sat on the straw mats covering the wooden floor of the bamboo temple. The lips of many were moving as they softly chanted along with the monks.
Khath’s lips remained still, his heart empty. If asked, he would not disavow the teachings. He believed the teachings, yet the words of the Buddha had lost the power to move or to comfort him. He felt somehow distant from the teachings, as though they controlled behavior on a different world from the one he inhabited. It was a very lonely feeling.
The monks chanted on, a background hum that began to irritate Khath. He might as well be listening to the drone of mosquitoes as he toiled on the dikes under the watchful eyes of the Khmer Rouge, their guns aimed and ready, afraid to brush the insects away from his face lest he be beaten for not putting full attention into his work.
Observing the others in the temple, Khath envied them their faith. Pra Chhay often said there were two levels of Buddhism, one being the simple devotions taught to uneducated villagers; the other consisting of the higher practices and theories studied by the scholar monks.
I asked Carol about how she did her world building and here is her answer.
To build a world that feels authentic to readers, I try to climb into the skin of my characters and experience that world through their senses and emotions. What do they experience and what is their reaction to it? In Saving Nary, the world inhabited by the protagonist, Khath, ranges from a refugee camp in Thailand – hot, dry, dusty, crowded, primitive – to the cool conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest. I use my own experience with these environments to help describe them, and also look at pictures and watch movies if I am unable to physically go to those environs. I close my eyes and remember: the hot prickly feel of humid, tropical heat pressing against my body…the astringent smell of a pine or fir forest, the scratch of blackberry vines against my skin, the taste and sensation of eating of fresh pineapple dipped in a mix of sugar, salt and hot chili pepper, the call of a blue jay or crow flapping overhead. Remembering to represent and engage all the senses makes a setting feel whole. Being able to contrast familiar worlds and unfamiliar worlds for the reader adds even more depth. Using metaphors and similes can be a great technique to employ here.
For Khath, there is yet a third world that he navigates throughout the book – the world of flashbacks, mental images so strong that his body reacts physically to them. To build this world, I visited Cambodia’s sites of torture and took many pictures so that I could remember and describe them accurately. I sat quietly in these locations and imagined the horror and felt shivers crawl across my skin and bile creep up my throat. I read historical accounts and first person narratives so the scenes would be rendered accurately. And I imagined times in my own life when I had been frightened, in pain or bullied to bring to mind the sensations that can accompany those situations: the pounding heart, the clenched fists, the acrid taste of fear.
As an author, planned immersion in a certain amount of sensory and emotional stimulation related to our story will enliven the words we put on the page. Much like an actor often learns a new skill to be able to perform a scene realistically, so does an author get his or her hands dirty at times to be able to describe a world authentically. Submitting to this process (within reason, of course!) is essential to writing scenes and describing a world that the reader can enter into and experience. Having a good set of beta readers with experience in the situation can be very useful, too, as they give a thumbs up or thumbs down to settings and events.
Readers can send me emails about their experience in reading Saving Nary through my website, www.caroldement.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Carol DeMent worked in the field of South East Asian refugee resettlement for seven years, and completed master's level research into international refugee resettlement policy. She lived for two years in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer and has traveled extensively in South East Asia. Her first novel, Saving Nary, was a Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Carol DeMent will be awarding $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.